16th and 17th September
In just over a week’s time, we’ll be revelling in all the fun and flavours of the season, as well as showcasing the skills that shape our gardens and rural crafts of the region. It’s a two-day celebration of gardening and harvest hosted by Toby Buckland, with celebrity speakers Charlie Dimmock and Christine Walkden.
There’ll be over 150 exhibitors including specialist nurseries, artisan crafts, local food, live music and family entertainment and there’s a full programme of garden talks and harvest workshops – demo’s on everything from growing-your-own, willow-weaving and botanical soap making, to English flower farming, apple tasting and nature crafting. You can even bring your own apples to press
Somerset Cool caught up with Toby to find out more:
1. Why did you start the Garden Festival?
I was giving monthly talks at the small Devon nursery Lisa and I owned at Powderham Castle and felt there was an appetite for something larger in the region. It was when I met Alan Lewis, the editor of Country Gardener Magazine, that the idea really got momentum.
What makes for a great partnership is we all believe smaller nurseries and craftspeople need support. Lisa and I wanted it to be as fun as a music festival, without the stuffiness you get at some shows. We wanted to put the love back into it. The one at Forde Abbey came about when I was filming for the BBC at Chelsea last year – a chance meeting with Forde’s marketing manager and her suggestion it would make a great venue for a festival, led to Alan, Lisa and I visiting and being blown away by its beauty – and here we are!
2. What can visitors look forward to at Forde Abbey and what are you most excited about?
The whole idea was to bookend the growing season. With our Spring fest at Powderham being all about getting going, Forde is all about reaping the rewards… everything from jam and pickle making, fermenting vegetables, making cakes, looking ahead to improving crops next year, growing cut flowers and creating flower meadows and cuttings gardens – everything to do with the harvest. I love the party atmosphere and everyone always says what a friendly, happy vibe the festival has. That’s what makes it for me – walking round chatting to people, enjoying the music and seeing a place transformed overnight, full of flowers, potential and lots of joy.
3. Which are your favourite plants in your own garden and why do you love them?
Always a difficult one to answer as I’m a great seed-sower, so it changes with the season. At the moment, I’m enjoying our little meadow which has been in flower since June and keeps getting better as new blooms open. Right now it’s the mallows stealing the show, earlier the umbels like scented dill were fabulous. One flower I wouldn’t be without is bronze fennel – it’s beautiful and useful and the bees and hoverflies love it too.
4. Tell us a secret about the Garden Festival that no-one else knows!
We love a good opening! Hours of festival meetings get wasted talking about crazy ideas for how to open the festival. We’ve had daytime fireworks, buckets of petals being hurled from the battlements of the Castle, ceilidh music (and Christine Walkden’s impromptu dancing) to get everyone in the party mood. With a harvest theme at Forde, we’re working on something involving me, Charlie Dimmock and vintage tractors! We haven’t quite worked out the details yet – it could be a drag race – you’ll have to come and along and see!
Tickets are £10 in advance online here (£12.50 on the gate on the day). Children under 16 get in free and as well as all the activities happening from 10am – 5pm both days, you’ll be able to enjoy Forde Abbey’s stunning gardens, the highest powered fountain in the UK, the dahlia-filled herbaceous borders, arboretum and lakes – plus guided tours with the brilliant Danny Burlingham, Forde Abbey’s Head Gardener.
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